BELLOWS FALLS -- The soft opening of a former mill on Wednesday started a new chapter of Sustainable Valley Group's mission to bring environmentally-sustainable businesses to a section of the village known as The Island.
Dave Bonta and Tonia White, the individuals responsible for bringing the two new enterprises to 30 Island St., joined SVG board members and members of the public for a ribbon-cutting at the facility to usher in the next phase of the Green Island Project. The project is one of several for SVG, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to generating financially and environmentally sustainable economies. It aims to improve and beautify The Island by revitalizing its old buildings and attempting to bring in "green" businesses to create jobs.
Bonta started RReal Warm LLC about a year ago and says the company will manufacture solar furnaces designed by Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (or RReal), a Minnesota-based company. White is the thrift store/textile recycling director for Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA), a nonprofit, and will oversee the recycling of textiles sent to places in need.
SVG Director Gary Fox and said his organization recently received a certificate of occupancy, meaning "we can get in there and start getting set up."
He said Wednesday was a big step for the Green Island Project.
"It establishes a track record," he told the Reformer. "It shows that you've taken an abandoned mill building, turned it into a high-performing facility that is well-insulated, air-tight, (with) renewable energy and you have quality tenants there creating jobs and you have financing that you're paying back."
Fox said the facility will employ five people in its early stages and 10 later on.
Bonta told the Reformer his business will be able to manufacture the products RReal devises via a technology transfer agreement.
"I was out there. The quality is impeccable," he said. "I'm proud to be able to build them here."
He said he hopes to start manufacturing by January, as he must first establish a strong customer base.
"You have to build a market before you build a product," he said. "Building a bunch of products and then shopping for a market is business suicide."
Bonta also said RReal Warm will get the opportunity to innovate and "if we innovate (RReal is) going to give us a certain amount of royalties."
Fox said RReal Warm's furnaces are certified by the Solar Rating & Certification Corporation. This means owners of households using them can get state or federal tax credits.
White explained SEVCA's large compactor has been recycling textiles at 30 Island St. since a certificate of electrical occupancy was received on Monday, Aug. 12. She said 15 bales of fabric -- ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 pounds -- have been recycled at the new facility so far. The textiles include clothes SEVCA cannot sell at its four Good Buy Stores in Bellows Falls, White River Junction and Springfield and those donated from other thrift stores.
"Ninety percent is being re-worn somewhere else, either in the Third World or some even coming back into the U.S.," she said next to a stack of bales.
White said SEVCA has been baling recycled textiles since 2007 and she hopes to ship 80,000 pounds every month. She said it takes 80 to 100 trash bags of clothes to make one bale.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.